Friday, 22 June 2007

The needle and the damage done

In early January 2007, Joe Duffy presented a programme on Irish television; 2006 How Was it For You? In an item on drugs and crime, Senator David Norris had this to say: ‘Well, the record drugs seizures (in Ireland in 2006) are a record waste of time. The War on Drugs is about as useful as the War on Terror. We’ve had seizures of cannabis and heroin, but it hasn’t stopped anything. It has proliferated, it has grown out of all proportion because of the enormous profits to be made and it has introduced—The Gun! Looking at the possibility of legalising and controlling drugs; that is the only way forward. The drug seizures are a headline, they make people feel positive, but quite honestly, it is a complete and utter waste of time. It is a red herring.’
Later, another Irish media personality Gay Byrne became embroiled in controversy when he too suggested that consideration should be given to legalising drugs.
Whether this could be a viable option or not, it does seem that conventional strategies have failed. In the early days of my descent into a life of drug dependency, I and my peers were eager and enthusiastic participants in what could be described as a cottage industry, compared to the billion-plus euro business of today. The business is now ruthlessly controlled by vicious gangs who will stop at nothing to maintain control over their domains. For example, two of these gangs in the Drimnagh and Crumlin area of Dublin where I grew up are engaged in a feud that has so far claimed nine lives. In 2006 there were 24 gun homicides in the 26 counties, most of which occurred in Dublin. The capital’s murder rate is soaring due to an upsurge in gangland violence according to ‘The Best of Times?’—a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). It revealed that Dublin’s homicide rate is increasing faster than that any other European capital city. What is even more frightening is that a staggering 85% of gun murders in Ireland do not result in a conviction.
A number of these murders have been ordered and directed from prisons. A recent search of Portlaoise Prison, Ireland’s maximum security jail, recovered 17 mobiles, 5 SIM cards, drugs, syringes, bootleg alcohol, and two budgies. Can anybody be in doubt that the situation is out of control?
Surely there is nothing to lose in trying an alternative to the present strategy which seems to confer even more wealth, power and influence on criminal gangs. Michael McDowell, the former Minister for Justice, is on record as stating that the drugs gangs pose as significant a threat to the State as paramilitarism did during the troubles in the North. Why not take control of the supply of drugs away from them? - Shay Byrne, author of The Miracle of Fatima Mansions

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